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Starters finish the job early in Patriots' rout

FOXBOROUGH -- Bill Belichick wanted his players to treat the days leading up to last night's exhibition game the same way they would for a regular-season contest. Once the lights came on, the Patriots showed they were ready.

Tom Brady and the first-string offense stayed on its torrid preseason pace, while a stingy defense and opportunistic special teams units helped the Patriots to a 41-0 victory over the overmatched Washington Redskins last night at Gillette Stadium. Many of the starters, including Brady, played throughout the first half and into the third quarter.

It was a night for returns, as safety Rodney Harrison, center Dan Koppen, and defensive lineman Richard Seymour all played for the first time this preseason. Each started, although Harrison and Koppen didn't play the entire first half. And inside linebacker Junior Seau, who signed Aug. 18, played his first game with the Patriots, starting alongside Mike Vrabel.

``It was good to see some players back out there that hadn't played in a while; that was encouraging," said Belichick, his team 2-1 in the preseason and set to visit the Giants Thursday. ``I thought our team executed a bit better than we did last week. We took a step forward."

Cornerback Ellis Hobbs said having Harrison on the field for the first time since last September, when he tore three ligaments in his left knee in Pittsburgh, sparked the entire defense.

``It feels good, there was a lot of talking and a lot of clanging of the pads," Hobbs said. ``Halfway through the second quarter, I told him I hadn't heard any pads [crunch] yet, and as soon as I was about to say it, a scud missile was flying by me just hitting the pile. It just feels good to have him back there."

Offensively, Brady finished 17 of 30 for 231 yards and one touchdown. He entered the game having directed four long scoring drives in the team's first two exhibition games, and put points on the board in five of the seven marches he led last night. Again playing without holdout receiver Deion Branch, Brady's favorite target was tight end Benjamin Watson, who had a team-high eight catches for 97 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown.

Playing their traditional 3-4 alignment, the Patriots limited the Redskins to 212 yards (90 coming in the first half) and totaled seven sacks. The Redskins had only eight first downs, with the Patriots holding more than a 12-minute edge in time of possession (36:08-23:52).

On special teams, a blocked 43-yard field goal by Richard Seymour in the second quarter stopped the Redskins on their deepest penetration of the night, save for the final seconds. Laurence Maroney opened the game with a 36-yard kickoff return, and rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski -- who beat out Martin Gramatica this week for the placekicking job -- hit two field goals from 23 yards.

Belichick felt the players set the tone leading up to the game, answering the call to treat last week like it was the regular season. ``I thought our preparation was certainly the best we had in camp," he said.

Brady opened the game by leading the Patriots on an 11-play, 54-yard drive that culminated in Gostkowski's first field goal. On the team's second possession, Brady needed just four plays to cover 80 yards, the big strikes a short pass that running back Corey Dillon turned up the left sideline for 39 yards and a long ball to receiver Troy Brown over the middle for a 36-yard gain. Maroney finished off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, his first score of the exhibition season, giving the Patriots a 10-0 lead and setting the tone 9:53 into the game.

Dillon was shaken up after his long gain, the Patriots reporting he was poked in the eye. Dillon didn't return.

The Patriots increased their lead on their fourth drive by featuring the no-huddle offense, with Brady hitting Watson for a 6-yard score. Gostkowski's second field goal came after the Patriots stalled at the Redskins' 5, and the Patriots had themselves a 20-0 halftime lead.

Brady started the third quarter and directed a 14-play, 81-yard drive, finished off by a Heath Evans 1-yard touchdown run. With the Patriots holding a 27-0 edge, Brady's night was done. Matt Cassel (7 of 8 for 63 yards) took over and the offense didn't break stride, with rookie free agent Patrick Cobbs scoring twice, both on 1-yard runs. Cobbs, who is making a strong push for a roster spot, finished with 92 yards on 13 carries.

The Patriots were solid against the Redskins' rushing attack, which was without injured starter Clinton Portis. When the Redskins were forced to pass, the Patriots got after quarterback Mark Brunell (7 of 16 for 51 yards), with Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, and Ty Warren each recording first-half sacks. Safety James Sanders and defensive linemen Mike Wright (two) and Johnathan Sullivan added second-half sacks.

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